Driving Impressions

By February 18, 2003

The Lexus GS 470 is a no-compromise SUV, and during our on-road/off-road adventures with it in and around Park City, Utah, we fell in love with it for the way it drives and handles, seemingly ready for anything this side of a Rockies avalanche. Its array of onboard electronics is unrivalled in this segment at this price, and all systems work in concert to make this machine come alive, whatever the driving conditions. The GX 470 comes ready to play.

The 4.7-liter V8 delivers world-class power, torque, smoothness, and quietness. The V8 is shared with the Lexus LX 470 and is optional with the Toyota 4Runner. It comes coupled with a new five-speed automatic transmission, which offers quicker response and better gearing than a traditional four-speed automatic.

Should you venture off road in this luxurious vehicle you’ll have at your command the latest in off-road management systems. It has a full-time four-wheel-drive system with an expensive locking Torsen torque-sensing differential that can shift the power from the front axle to the rear axle continuously. It automatically directs power according to the traction available at each of the four corners. In normal highway conditions, power is split 40/60 percent front/rear. If the rear wheels spin, the differential can change the front/rear ratio to 53/47 percent to control the slippage. Conversely, sending more power to the rear wheels (29/71 front/rear) during steering maneuvers improves tracking through curves.

Downhill Assist Control (DAC) makes it easier to control the truck down steep, slippery slopes: Simply take your feet off the pedals and the GX 470 slowly walks down the incline, using the anti-lock brake system and electronic traction control to keep the GX 470 pointed in the intended direction. Touch the brake or the gas to slow down or speed up, then take your feet off the pedals again and the system takes over. It even works in reverse, in case you have to back down a hill and try again. Downhill Assist Control is very neat feature that makes sense and a feature that anybody can use after one lesson. Going uphill? Hill-Start Assist Control helps keep the GX 470 stationary while starting on a steep incline.

On the road, Vehicle Skid Control improves control and lateral traction while cornering on dry or slippery road surfaces. Skid control helps the driver keep the GX on the intended path by reducing power or applying brake to individual wheels. Skid control can prevent a spin or reduce the chance of sliding off the road.

We found the brakes of the GX 470 to be superb. They are large, and all four discs are ventilated for long life and fade-free performance (most trucks use ventilated discs only on the front wheels). The GX 470 comes standard with the latest in brake technology: Anti-lock brakes (ABS) help the driver maintain control of the steering in a panic stop. Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) distributes the proper brake force between front and rear wheels to achieve shorter stopping distances. Brake assist can help the driver use the full potential of the brakes in panic stops.

As heavy as it is, the GX 470 is no slouch in the performance department, capable of full-throttle sprints to 60 mph from rest in about 8.5 seconds, with a nice V-8 intake roar to go with it. If you’re towing anything up to its limit of 5000 pounds, this truck will handle it with ease. The bad news is that, even if you try hard, you probably won’t see 20 miles per gallon for the life of the vehicle.

While it is heavier than a unibody SUV would be, we’re happy to have the body-on-frame design of the GX 470 for the quietness it affords. The new power steering system, which actually has different-ratio gears on the outer ends of the steering rack than on the interior, makes steering quick and light in parking situations, but quick and heavy on the highway, so the truck never feels over-assisted and never feels darty. The GX 470 handles impressively well